When I first came to Australia I was quite excited. It felt like all of the pressure was taken away. But then later I was worried about what I could do here for work, and some of the pressure came back. It’s a totally new life.
My husband works at the naval base in Kwinana and we wanted to build south of the river, so we chose Kwinana. Kwinana will always be home now.
Kwinana library is so good. It is big and there are lots of activities. Also there is a wild flower reserve near my home, and I love flowers. I am a Kings Park guide and I paint flowers so Kwinana is an ideal place for me to live. I want to work with my art. It’s my dream to paint 100 wild flowers. I am also a Thaichi instructor and another of my dreams is to help people through my Thaichi.
Li is my family name and Xiu Zhen is my given name. In China it is traditional for each name to have three parts. The first is the family name, the second indicates which generation you are born into and the third part is the given name. So for me everyone born to my father’s side in my generation (my cousins) have ‘Xiu’ as the second part of their name. My grandfather’s father prepared a list of the name to be given to each generation of the family, and that list included my generation’s ‘Xiu.’
I was born in a little town, which is very close to Beijing in 1964 and I moved to Beijing when I was 17. I have 2 older brothers and 1 younger sister. We did not fall into the 1 child policy, which only started 30 years ago.
My parents had an arranged marriage. Before they got married they had never seen each other. It was common. In their day that’s how all marriages were. My brothers had arranged marriages but before they got married they met and got to know each other first and got to choose whether they were happy with the match. When I was old enough to marry I lived in Beijing with my parents and sister, so things were very different. Times had changed; people were not so traditional. Also, because we were living in the city we were introduced to many more people so an arranged marriage between parents of different families was less likely.
School was strict. We learnt world history, but Chinese politics of the day often influenced what we learnt. We only heard one voice and we thought that voice was right. Then when we were in university we heard different opinions on matters for the first time from professors and supervisors. And then we started to think. It’s not that they were allowed to offer different opinions to the rest of the State, but sometimes different opinions just came out.
The Tiananmen Square incident deeply influenced my view of life. It is something that very few people in Beijing will talk about openly today. The press in China reported the incident repeatedly and only gave one perspective. It would be frowned upon to hold other perspectives on what took place and why.
My home was a typical Chinese home. In the middle was a cooking area. When I was little we had three houses linked together for my whole extended family. We lived with my father’s side of the family, which was the tradition, though my mother’s side did not live far away. Everyone in the town knew which house was ours. However, when I was a child one was not proud to be rich. The Communist Party divided all riches and the poor were treated better than the rich. So when I was a child we seldom talked about what my grandfather and his father did for a living, which led them to be able to afford that property.
As a girl, there was no expectation on me. Families just supported girls while they were growing up so that they could get married, then not need to belong to the family any more. I think this is the traditional way.
Chinese culture is a mix of traditions and religions – Confucianism, Taoism. It’s not really a religious thing now but a traditional festival. We still celebrate Chinese new year, it’s the biggest festival and everyone needs to return home. We got new clothes (we had these new clothes but we had to wait until the new year to wear them), new shoes and delicious food when I was a child. My year is the year of the dragon. People think the year of the dragon produces strong people. Through the one child policy people chose which year they wanted to have children in but when I was young that didn’t matter to parents as the policy didn’t apply.
At college in Beijing I went to ‘foreign language college’, I did English. Then I worked in my dad’s water company, but in a different department. I started working at 20 years old. I met my husband in 1989. We were introduced by my neighbour. About two years later we got married. He was in Beijing, he worked in the army. My parents liked him.
I have one son because of the one child policy. He is quite lonely. I see the good and the bad in the policy. The population is so large; Beijing has the same size population as Australia. Yet, the next generation is made up of single children and they might have some problems as a result of having this experience. For example, parents spoil them because they are only children, so if they cannot find a job they just stay home (at their parents’ house) and watch TV.
My first husband and I divorced because he loved someone else. I moved in with my parents. I became a Christian in 2000. My friend is a Christian and she brought me to the church. At that time my marriage was in difficulty, leading me to feel like I didn’t want to live. The church made me feel better. I met my current husband in Beijing in 2006. I was an interpreter at the church he went to. He heard my voice and was moved by it. Later my friends introduced him to me. He volunteered to teach all of us translators to pronounce the names in the bible as well as possible.